Tuesday, October 23, 2012

So, after the last debate . . .

. . . it still seems to me that Obama has the slight advantage. I just left this comment on Nate Silver's NY Times' blog.

"I'm not being critical of this blog but one thing that strikes me funny is that it has this sophisticated statistical system yet comes to the same conclusions you can by just counting electoral votes - "Mr. Obama was roughly a 70 percent Electoral College favorite in the FiveThirtyEight forecast in advance of the debate, largely because he has remained slightly ahead in polls of the most important swing states." It seems fairly straightforward that Romney probably has to win all the states in which he has even a little lead or is tied in the polls and then still win either Wisconsin, Ohio, Pa or Michigan, or both Nevada/New Hampshire, to win. He probably needs one more boost and I don't know where he gets it from.

I want Romney to win, but I did not think he "won" the debate, whatever that means. I get his strategy - seem presidential and avoid big mistakes - but he missed opportunities to highlight Obama's perceived problems. He spent a lot of time on the defensive and never backed Obama up. It is a lot like in boxing - you have to take it from the champion. He also harangues too much for me and sometimes makes me cringe a little. He was right to keep bringing it back to the economy, but I don't think it was enough to "win." Actually, it was a bit tedious.

Also, watch the MSNBC and Fox focus groups on video. Those undecided voters on MSNBC sure seemed more liberal and those on Fox sure seemed more conservative, to me. Wonder how they choose them."

It is may be impossible to say what winning a debate means, but, what I know it doesn't mean is that I happen to agree with someone's points more than the other(s).

I really enjoy Mr. Silver's blog, which is all about statistics. Some, who aren't happy with his conclusions, don't understand what he is doing or just get upset when someone says their guy won't win. I check it out, along with realclearpolitics.com, almost every day.

This is what I'm doing election night - watching to see if Romney wins Va. and Florida. If he doesn't win either, he is cooked. If he wins them, then I'll watch to see if he also wins one of those I mentioned above (or both NH and Nev.). Ohio is, of course, the big enchilada. Their could be other combos but that would probably involve a surprise or so.  But, if he wins those states and the polls are right, he wins. If not, not. We will survive four more years of Obama, even if we continue to decline. We've survived worse. But, I'd rather not.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

From the department of "You're kidding me," frivolous prosecutions


The enforcement of the law in an impartial manner is not an easy thing. Given our differing opinions, it is probably impossible. We do not want to give those charged with enforcing law or regulations, right down to the school administration level, tyrannical power to do just whatever they want to ensure order just because they are following a literal interpretation. On the other hand, we do not want to tie their hands by fear of reprisal or too many or just plain vague rules such that they cannot enforce the law at all. They have to pick and choose what they use their resources on and almost no one is ever going to be happy with it.
Like most government in this world, as with almost everything we put our mind's to, you often end up with a mishmosh of a system that works only by the good faith and common sense of those in charge.  And, of course, whether that is the case or not must be a matter of opinion. Sometimes, probably usually, in an effort to be even-handed and apply the law impartially, the dichotomy ends up with prosecutions that make the rest of us just groan and think - "WHAT are you doing?" I am not even talking here about times where the prosecutor is motivated by political factors and just persecutes the defendant(s) like in the Duke rape case, a debacle where the prosecutor ended up disbarred from practicing law and convicted, and the accuser, though shown to be a fraud out for financial gain, walked away free and unmolested due to a combination of racial favoritism and misplaced pity, after nearly destroying the lives of a few boys who had with her on the wild side but hadn’t assaulted or coerced her in anyway. We can only be glad there that the attorney general of North Carolina bravely stepped in and stopped the prosecutor from completing his disgusting political act. I don’t have the solution for any of this. Perhaps there is none, but constant two steps forward, one step back muck ups. Maybe two steps back.   

The following selections are no less stupid than the Duke rape case, if short of an accusation of a heinous crime, but may have permanently stigmatized or ruined the lives of the accused victims.
Sexual assaults gone wild

In the past century we’ve seen tremendous gains by women and children in protecting them from sexual aggression. For the most part, this is a good thing.  On the other hand, in order to remedy some very unfair conditions, there is also no doubt that it has also resulted in ridiculous decisions that make us shake our head and sometimes a feeling that adults in general and men in particular are inherently suspect of wrongdoing.  A friend of mine pointed out one day to me that the scene in many movies where the man suddenly grabs a woman and kisses her, leading to cheers and tears in the audience, had been replaced by men being paralyzed by fear of being accused of sexual assault. I think perhaps he exaggerates, as by the same signs and vibes that have always existed, most people seem to manage to figure out who is interested and who is not. But, in order to provide a level of safety for people, some of those in authority have just gone way overboard.  Below are a couple of cases where accusations of sexual assault seem just insane.
In February, 2004 a school boy named Stephen Fogelman, a third grader, chased a girl on the playground. Without being in a position to know anymore, my daughter being a grown woman, I suspect his happens quite a bit on playgrounds without untoward incident, and is laughed at or ignored by adults in supervision. But, it didn’t this day. When Stephen caught the young girl he kissed her on the cheek, which certainly seems affectionate, rather than evil, and definitely not sexual. The do-gooders in school, rather than reprimand him, suspended him for a day for . . . on grounds of sexual harassment. He was nine years old. According to his parents, he didn’t even understand why he was suspended. According to the girl’s mother, her daughter had been frightened by the incident, but she herself found the charge of sexual harassment a little "awkward." 

This reminds me of a story an elderly friend tells. When he was young the boys in his neighborhood would chase the girls their age and, if they caught them, tickle them with a feather on the end of a stick. We are talking 1940s here.  One day, he and his friend caught one of the young girls and were tickling her (he was the chaser; his friend the tickler).  But, another girl had escaped them and was up on a hill, completely out of any danger of being caught. She called down to her friend – “If you wait for me, I’ll wait for you too.” In other words, she had every intention of being caught. It is possible to imagine that nowadays, those two boys from another era, too shy or  too young to even want to try to kiss the girl, could have been thrown out of school, scandalized or even prosecuted for tickling. Such is our world.
This was hardly the first time something like what happened to young Fogelman has occurred. In 1996, Jonathan Prevette, North Carolina, got suspended for doing the same. He was six years old and the young girl he kissed had asked him to do it. The charge . . . again, sexual harassment.

I’m not going to minimize here the sexual harassment many women actually suffer. I’ve seen some myself, even seen friends, grown married women, cry over the misplaced sexual advances or kidding of their stupid bosses or co-workers who thought their attentions were wanted. When I was a young working man, I tried hard to navigate that line between flirtation and even occasionally voluntary sexuality with offending anyone. I grabbed and kissed a few women too up to my 20s and early 30, even occasionally co-workers. Sometimes more, but then definitely only when it was requested.
I have no doubt that if brought into full light on a public stage, some of my acts would be viewed by many as harassment, though it certainly seemed to me that none of it was unwelcome and usually directly invited. I remember an awkward situation in college that is laughable in retrospect for its innocence, but at the time, upsetting to me.  I was a freshman in my college ratskeller and was just holding hands with a couple of girls in my class. Everyone seemed very happy.  I had my first girlfriend for a month or so, and was, not surprisingly starting to feel like maybe I should not have been holding hands with one, never mind two girls, but wasn’t really sure.  In retrospect, d'uh, but I was just 17 and it was still kind of new to me. The next day both girls approached and shocked me when one stood by as the other chastised me for what we had all been doing together.  I felt ashamed and embarrassed and of course peeved that since we all had been involved, that I was somehow the bad guy. It was hardly a ménage a trois.   Later than day, the girl who had stood mute came over and told me to ignore our other friend; that she had enjoyed it herself  (I think she was inviting more, but I ignored that out of respect for my girlfriend) and that the other girl was just feeling guilty because she had a boyfriend. I felt a lot better. But, had the other girl gone to the school authorities – would I have been charged with harassment or assault?  Maybe not in the 1970s when it happened, but nowadays, in some schools absolutely. I definitely would be suspended, if not thrown out. Crazy? Yes.

Zero tolerance
When my daughter was in junior high a policy of zero tolerance for fighting was announced. If you were in a fight, you were suspended, even if not the aggressor. As a parent, I found this intolerable. Though it seemed to me highly unlikely my daughter would get in a fight I told her that if she had to defend herself or a friend I would neither punish or be disappointed in her, and would defend her legally. It never happened, but I am still offended by the idea that in order to rid the school of bullying and violence, it would go so far as to add to the victims' injuries by requiring that they either just cover up while being attacked up rather subject themselves to official punishment.  In fact, that does happen.  

Though I do approve of reasonable efforts to quash bullying and violence at school, a modicum of common sense should still be necessary.
Almost exactly two years ago an honor student, Alyssa Cornish, with an otherwise impeccable record, and who had never been in trouble, was suspended for an entire school quarter for firing a weapon on school property. Though only in the fifth grade, she was not even permitted to step on school property. And that seems appropriate except . . . . screeeeeeechh – it wasn’t a real gun. It was a toy gun. There is something called Airsoft where they shoot soft pellets at each other and this was an Airsoft rifle. Alyssa was at school on a weekend and the kids were playing with the gun. One boy was shot in the back, but, really, so what? When I was in school I was punched, knocked over, had my books stripped onto the floor and was otherwise accosted -- and that was by my friends. Bear once body checked me into my locker so hard I'm lucky I am here to tell about it.  In Alyssa's case, she merely fired the toy gun up in the air once. What a monster.

Her mother describes this as emotionally devastating to her child and her family. I would guess so. Of course, I’m sure there are people out there who would even agree with the suspension.  But, seems to me insane and that the people running the school should not be doing so due to lack of common sense. In 1964 Potter Stewart, a Supreme Court justice, gave himself a little notoriety when he wrote in a decision that hard-core porn was hard to describe, “but I know it when I see it.” I’ve learned that this line was actually suggested to him by a law clerk, Alan Novak, but the point is,  just because we don't know where to draw a line doesn't mean we need to sweep in those clearly outside of it. The same could probably be said about violence. We know it when we see it. To suggest Alyssa violated a zero tolerance for violence by firing a toy gun in the air on a weekend is just insane, as insane as suggesting that a teacher who puts his hand on a little girl’s shoulder is assaulting her, or that two kids bumping into each other in the hallway is a fight. Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over. Apparently, some school officials don’t. There is a line somewhere upon which I acknowledge it must be very hard to tell. But, this wasn’t it. Not by a long shot.
Super kid crushed beneath heels of do-gooder authorities

I remember reading a year or so ago an article by NY Times columnist Nick Kristof about super kids in Africa, who underwent enormous ordeals on a daily basis to take care of their families while at the same time doing things like walking ten miles back and forth to school. It was very touching and reminded me of how ridiculously fortunate we are. Apparently though, being a super kid is not allowed in America because you might break a rule.
Diane Tran was is a 17 year old girl who is just a terrible person. I mean, yes, she is an honor student taking a number of advanced level courses, and sure, she works a full time and part time job in addition to school to support her brother and sister because their idiot parents divorced and, apparently, from what I can tell, abandoned them. She occasionally misses school because of exhaustion.

So, the system worked perfectly. They added to her financial woes when she missed school and PUT HER IN JAIL FOR A DAY.  Better had the judge should put himself in jail for two days on the grounds of being an idiot. I really don't care that he has warned her in the past she couldn't miss school. I understand that one of her employers is trying to raise money for her.  I hope they raise money for someone to run against the judge.
Permitting us to death

I was shocked earlier this year to learn that in rural Virginia, where I was living at the time, a couple of teenage boys couldn’t go down to the river and fish after dinner because they didn’t have a permit. Seriously, is that what our way of life is coming down to? Paralysis through revenue raising. It really got out of hand down in Georgia last year, when police shut down a lemonade stand run by some teenage girls because they hadn’t paid for the $50 a day or $180 a year permit for running a food establishment. I think of this every time I pass a lemonade stand now - those poor kids don't know what is going to happen to them.
The three girls, Kasity Dixon, 14, Tiffany Cassin, 12, and Skylar Roberts, 10, all related, were reportedly yelled at by the police and terrified enough so that they were afraid to go outside their houses afterwards, at least for a while. They had been trying to earn a little money to go to a water park. It is nice to know that a local farmers market and the water park itself have allowed the girls to operate their sell lemonade there so they can reach their goal.

The local police department refused to comment, as they were investigating a criminal matter. Yikes.
Adult animal predators

Of course, what happened to these children, while upsetting, is not as serious as it is for adults who are prosecuted for behavior that may be technically illegal, but only if you are a tyrannical monster.
For example, poor Nancy Black. Now, I love animals. Of course, I also eat them, which some day in the future may seem as monstrous as having slaves. I don’t mind laws protecting animals from cruelty, but I have grown up a little since I held my sister off with a knife because she wanted to step on some ants swarming in our kitchen.  Like with everything, there has to be a some rule of reasonableness. That line was crossed with federal prosecution of a marine biologist starting in 2005.

I learned in a George Wills article about the plight of Nancy, age 50, a marine biologist who was doing some whale watching.  Someone on her crew whistled to some whales to get their attention  and someone else then complained to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency that this might be “harassment,” an “environmental crime.”  How would you like to be charged with whistling at a whale? Actually, that's not what happened, but apparently it is conceivable. When the agency requested a video of it Black sent them one. But, she edited it by highlighting the whistling, so they could easily find it. She was indicted for allegedly making a “material false statement” to federal investigators, a felony.

Too add insult to injury, about a  year later the feds raided her home, which has to be terrifying, and took her stuff.  She is also charged with feeding whales when her and her crew watched whales feeding on their prey. Her friends and colleagues were told not to talk to her by the feds and she lost one of her best friends. Defending herself has taken her life savings. For what? I think there is a pretty good chance she is not going to be convicted, but, folks who obviously have nothing important to do and too large a budget, have helped ruin her life.

Why we don't get involved

The following example of a nurse in Texas illustrates why so many people don't like to get involved. Because when you do, the system chews you up and spits you out. As a lawyer, one of the hardest things I've had to do is to get decent people who are witnesses to show up to court to testify, because they are afraid of what will happen to them or just controversy. I don't really blame them, as they are unfamiliar with the system and experience tells them that they will get savaged for being good citizens (except, I do blame the man who called me a Nazi because I subpoenaed his wife, a witness).
A few years back I was in Chicago's O'hare Airport at 5:30 in the morning, and, in my stupor, was still able to hear a TSA warning that we should report anyone we saw leave any luggage anywhere that may have been playing as frequently as every 2 minutes. To my surprise, as I waited on line, I saw a man, who ironically looked very much like the terrorist in the movie True Lies roll his carriage brim full with luggage (I counted 13 bags) over to the door and deliberately leave one of the suitcases there before coming back. It was hard to believe that despite the constant warning someone would innocently do this. I decided, as unlikely as a terrorist attack at such an early hour seemed, to follow instructions. Why else would they repeat it so frequently, if they did not want us to do it?  A few minutes later I was directed to another line, and when I got there, I dutifully reported what I saw and pointed out the suitcase to the employee speaking to me.

The TSA reacted like the trained super agents they are. They immediately investigated with great dedication by searching - ME! Yeah, I was thoroughly searched. When we were done and I was going on my way, I could still see the suitcase sitting by the door, apparently not a concern to any of them. But, the warning droned on. Fortunately, it was just an odd event and nothing blew up.

What happened to me was, of course, a pittance, a few minutes out of my life. But, in 2010, a jury had to exonerate a nurse, Anne Mitchell, who wrote a letter to the medical board complaining about a doctor, Rolando Arafiles, who was allegedly pushing the herbal products he was selling on his patients. It didn't work out the way Anne thought it would. When the doctor received notice of the complaint from the board, he had his friend, the local sheriff, do an investigation of those he claimed were harassing him.  Anne and her friend, Vickilyn Galle, who to some degree helped her, were not only fired, but charged with felonies for misusing government information, despite the protests of the medical board that you can't do that with whistleblowers, that they needed to be provided with such information and that there was no evidence of a crime anyway.  The prosecutors eventually dropped the case against her friend, but Anne had to undergo a trial. A national nursing association raised money to help her with her legal fees. It made national news and the jury took very little time acquitting her.  I and many others would have been livid had she been convicted. Naturally, she could have gone to jail for years and underwent a lot of stress. This one also had a happy ending with respect to both the prosecutors and a civil lawsuit. Per http://www.quackwatch.org/14Legal/nurses.html:
". . . In August 2010, Winkler Hospital settled its part of the civil suit for $750,000 and paid a $7,500 fine imposed by the Texas Department of State Health Services for inadequately supervising Arafiles and firing Mitchell and Galle.

In June 2010, the Texas Medical Board charged Arafiles with witness intimidation in addition to improperly treating nine patients. A Winkler County grand jury subsequently indicted him, former Winkler County Memorial Hospital administrator Stan Wiley, Sheriff Robert Roberts, and County Attorney Tidwell for retaliation and misuse of official information. In March 2011, Wiley pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Wiley's plea agreement includes a pledge to cooperate with prosecution of the other three. In June 2011, Sheriff Roberts was convicted and was sentenced to spend 100 days in jail, pay a $6,000 fine, and serve four years of probation. The conviction means he will automatically be removed as Winkler County Sheriff and must surrender his peace officer's license. Also in June, Arafiles was charged with aggravated perjury for lying at Michell's trial. When asked how Roberts had obtained the names and contact information of patients who had complained about Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board, Arafiles said he didn't know even though he had given Roberts the information. In October 2011, Tidwell was convicted In November 2011, but is appealing his conviction. Arafiles pleaded guilty to one count each of misuse of official information and retaliation and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. He also surrendered his medical license ."  I took out the footnotes, but it seems like a well researched website.
So, it is a case where common sense won out, this time not just against stupidity, but corruption. I don't. That's all nice for those of us playing at home, but the nurses still had to go through hell because of a system that allows such corrupt practices that seemed clear as day to anyone who learned of it.  Obviously, there was wrongdoing and malice here. My question is, where was the judge and state in this well publicized matter? Why was this women allowed to be tortured so? Were I the judge, I would have dismissed the matter outright. Were I the governor, I would have summarily pardoned them. I'm not sure of the attorney general's authority in this situation, but he/she should have quashed it, if possible.  I seriously doubt, other than the accused's oppressors, anyone would have thought it was favoritism in either case.

The Big Sum Up
There are, of course, cloudier cases, and probably overwhelmingly prosecutions are just, even if we have too many laws. Sometimes I will think something should so obviously be one way and am shocked to learn that others just as fervently believe the other. Some times I find that these differences are influenced by gender  The issue of religious accommodation comes to mind too, and I hope to write about that soon. But, with respect to the cases I mention above, I can't think of anyone who disagreed that they were just wrong, that at least some discretion should have told the prosecution or administration that it was acting too literally and punishing someone who just should have been left alone. This is, unfortunately, the friction that having rule of law brings about. Those charged with enforcing it are going to want to be above suspicion or criticism that they played favorites or drew the wrong line (except, such as in the Texas case, where there is prosecutorial malice), while the rest of us want some kind of obvious rule of reason.

If you have your own story, feel free to "charm in," as my insignificant other likes to say.

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Biden-Ryan Debate

Although I posted on another (very self-absorbed) topic yesterday, I thought I'd give myself 15 minutes today to touch on the debate tonight. Last week, before the presidential debate, I blathered on not only about what a waste of time it was, but also about why we need a third party. It seemed about half an hour into the debate me and pretty much everyone else was slapped in the face with what a big deal it might actually be, and, in fact, in polls today for the first time Romney is showing not only that he might be catching up, but in some, surpassing. We will see, of course, if that means anything more than a bump. As I wrote afterwards, I don't think Obama was so bad, just himself, and Romney was so good, plus, but it still all comes down to the swing states. At last look, not only was Obama well ahead in Ohio, but, early voting was overwhelmingly in his favor. And, without Ohio . . . .

But, Biden-Ryan. We've heard all the analysis about this so far. Mostly it is that Joe Biden is a crazy old coot and Paul Ryan a nerd. Biden has been coached and coached, but no one is sure if it will take. Me either. The hope for a great debate is that he says something wild. Then again, he made a few blunders against Palin, and most of the media seemed not to notice (naturally, Fox did).

We are also seeing the video of Ryan taking the President to school during the health care debate at the Blair House a couple of years ago. He is very eloquent, if exceedingly wonkish. He is quite capable of explaining difficult subjects, but, how good will he be in little 2 minute bites, it is hard to say. Debating, or what we have that we call debates, is decidedly different than making a speech, as everyone noticed recently with Obama. But, Ryan should not expect to run over Biden the way Romney ran over Obama. For one thing, he may be too young to carry it off without looking brattish. I personally don't think he is as charming as some others seem to think. On the other hand, he is perfectly pleasant and seems fairly unflappable. But, Biden is not Obama and won't sit still for it either. He is perfectly capable of just talking over Ryan and even whining that it isn't fair (I've seen him do that in the Senate). Plus, the host will not permit it this time, as Lehrer took so much criticism for it last week.

Hard to say what the questions will be, of course, as it is one debate and they don't tell you in advance even the general topics. I'm kind of hoping Libya comes up, because it will be interesting. Biden actually does know about foreign policy. He is not an idiot, whatever you may think from the media. He makes mistakes, yes, but more from wishful thinking and telling the truth. He is one of the few who agreed with me that Iraq should have been divided up into 3 regions from the get go.  And, have you noticed that many times what is being called a gaffe with him is actually saying what the administration didn't want him to - like when he said that the middle class had been brutalized the past four years or that there was only a 30% chance of the stimulus package working?

I don't mind going out on a limb with these things, and I'm going to hazard a guess that it is probably going to be (though I predicted this incorrectly last week it was a history making event as post debate polls showed no one had ever won so decisively before) one of those debates where both sides claim victory. Both sides are trying to raise expectations for the other side and lower them for themselves. In the end, I expect I will end up agreeing more with Ryan, because, despite his conservative credentials, I don't really think of him that way except when it comes to the economy. 

Despite the self-imposed beating I took last week on my assertion that debates are a waste of time, I still think so. Vice presidential debates are probably doubly irrelevant. I still remember Dan Quayle giving a painfully long, drawn out, mish mosh of an answer to a question, and also get his head handed to him by Lloyd Bensen, and you know what - didn't make a hill of beans.

I will be happy if Ryan wins, as that is my bias, but unlike real pundits (I just play one on the internet) or spin doctors I never mind saying if my guy does badly, as with John McCain. Let you know tomorrow or shortly thereafter how this one came out.

My 15 minutes are up and I'm not even famous.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Books!


A welcome break from politics today. At one time I can love politics and not be able to wait until the campaigning is over.
You may have noticed that the subtitle of this blog is "My thoughts. What else?" Foremost in my thoughts on most days are books. I can't think of anything I own that I would care about half so much about losing, except perhaps this computer, than many of my books. I am sure there are people who read more in a day than I do in a week or maybe even a month, but, certainly, relatively speaking, I read a lot. It helps my numbers that I am one of those people who have to read many books at once. To some people, non-readers, I seem obsessed with it. But, it is one thing in which I am not alone. There would not be a Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com if I were. But, when I started writing this blog in 2006 I realized that part of the reason for it was that I really didn't have a lot of opportunity to talk about many of the things I love most, which were mostly either books or information I found in them. In fact, many of the posts here, whatever the subject, are just excuses to go through my library and share some stuff. This night, I'm just going to talk about them and they are the subject. Plus, people are always asking me what I am reading and I can never think of any thing.

In the last few years I've added to my reading what might seem like a ridiculous burden to some people - taking notes on what I read. I do this more and more and perhaps obsessively. By taking notes sometimes mean copying over much of a book on my computer. When an author is extremely detailed it can take months and literally hundreds of pages. My reading is not random. Much of it is on a fairly small number of somewhat related topics.  Looking at them, I am surprised myself how many have to do with liberty issues. Following are the issues that have guided my reading, mostly the last few years, referring to my favorites on the subjects or what I am reading currently.  I am not providing my opinions on the subjects here, only so much as to introduce and discuss the books.
1)  What were the conditions that preceded World War II?  History repeats itself, but only in a vague and somewhat illusory sense in that events are often similar, but are the same far less than they vary. Fears of a militaristic Germany rising again are not heard and I consider, in any foreseeable future, not worth being concerned about any more or less than New Zealand, Costa Rica or Mongolia rising in a threatening way to its neighbors. Studying history is not a tool for accurate prediction of precisely what will happen. Life is simply far too complex. But, it can help us understand ourselves better if we are always careful to remember that we will see things in terms of our own culture, including the narrative of history with which we are familiar,  the state of the social "sciences" and also our available technology.

By conditions that preceded WWII I include more particularly two subjects. First, what was it that attracted so many Germans to Hitler? Second, what was it the led Britain and France to the policy of appeasement with Germany when even then, the governments at large should have known what Churchill and some others knew for many years. If you are expecting an answer to these questions, I'm still learning, although I've been studying it for decades.  What books have been most valuable in studying these topics?  Well, that's a lot of books. But, that come to mind right away - Two related ones, Albert Speer's Inside the Third Reich and one written about Speer - Gitta Sereny's Albert Speer: His battle with Truth, Donald Cameron Watts' How War Came, The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, A History of Nazi Germany, Telford Taylor's Munich, The Price of Peace, William Manchester's The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940 and Churchill's own The Gathering Storm, the first of his six volumes on the war. Not that there aren't many other great books on the War that I've read, and many more that I haven't. Of all of these, to answer the two questions that satisfy me the most, I would probably give Munich prize of place.
2.  Was Hitler of the right wing, left wing or something else?   This question has been made a well known controversial topic by conservative writers the last few years, as many commentators and now the hoi polloi has insisted that Adolph Hitler was properly of the left, not the right.  But, the argument is not new. I am still researching this topic too, and look forward to writing on it someday as I think my position differs from the two conventional ones, at least a little. Whether Nazis were left, right or something else, the right's passionately argued position, held even by one of my favorite scholars, Friedrich Hayek, differs from mine. Jonah Goldberg, a fairly prominent conservative writer most recently wrote a volume on it, but I found his effort less than scholarly and meant really to excite his party. There are many books from which I am garnering my argument, but two I am working on right now which were found at used library book sales are Richard F. Hamilton's Who voted for Hitler, a dense book to say the least, and Harold J. Gordon's Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch, another thick work which for me is both much more interesting and more difficult than popular works.

3. What the hell is liberty? I know that this sounds like a simple topic. Liberty means free, right? Nothing is so simple and less so something that is basically a human construct, perhaps most accurately a feeling. And, there are endless opinions on it. For example, one book I've started this year but am struggling with (actually, think I am pretty much giving up on it and won't even give its name) argues that what we call freedom developed only once in history and only by Western society and that there are three types of liberty. Not buying it. But, if you think this is a simple topic, and it is obvious, try Abraham Lincoln on it from 1864  -
" The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name———liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names———liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to—day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated."
In the past few years I've read a little Lord Acton (we mostly know him know from the saying, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," which is a great, if inaccurate quote, not always correctly cited to him, and which is actually found in one of his letters). His Essays in the History of Liberty is sometimes exciting, often boring, and would not make the top ten list these days. As famous as he is in the field, I sometimes doubt the accuracy of his scholarship, possibly unfairly. Two others from the 1800s make my list. First, the endlessly quotable Democracy in America by de Tocqueville,  of which you have probably heard and Frederic Bastiat's super pithy The Law, which you probably have not, but would enjoy immensely if you are of the libertarian bent.

The two best of the best I've come across in this field so far are Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty, which is much deeper than his more famous, but slightly more accessible The Road to Serfdom (generally, he's not a fun writer) and his fellow Austrian compatriot, Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, The Spell of Plato, which nearly made me jump for joy as I read it, as he understood Plato's politics the way I and not so many others seem to.  And, if you still think this whole liberty issue is simple, take a look at my 9/26/08 post on the man who was the inspiration for al Qaeda.  Freedom is complicated.
 4. Religious history.  What is your friendly neighborhood atheist doing reading religious history and textual criticism? For one thing, religion is inextricably bound up with history and freedom, so . . . . My favorite right now is Father John P. Meier's encyclopedic A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, which, not surprisingly, considers Jesus and the New Testament from a historical perspective.  There are four volumes and are so thick in citation that I am only half way through the second volume after a number of years. It is not a meal, but a steady diet. Recently, I more leisurely enjoyed the endlessly instructive Gary Wills' much lighter Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine and the Mystery of Baptism. Wills is one of the most instructive and creative American history writers I've come across, and though it is a little surprising, he frequently writes on Catholicism too (and, of course, Shakespeare). But, I don't recommend Font to anyone who isn't fascinated by the subject. There is one found in my favorite used bookstore that I'm working my way through every day.  I left it in a hearing room one day and had to order another online. It is J. W. Allen's 1928 A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century. I guess I can't recommend that to anyone either who isn't as interested as I am in the topic, but I'm loving every page. Luther, Melanchthon, Calvin, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Anabaptists, Fox, Huguenots and even Machiavelli. What's not to love? It was the best century for Christian religious controversy for me.  Much more accessible, but dealing to a great extent with the same century is Benson Bobrick's Wide on the Waters, which deals with the translation of the English Bible. These translations were much more controversial - often fatal - than you would think. Bobrick is a rather unique and versatile historian who has also written on the Civil and Revolutionary wars, Ivan the Terrible, subways, Siberia, astrology and stuttering, though I've only read his book on Ivan and Angel in the Tempest (on our founding) in addition to Wide on the Waters, which I found good enough for a second reading, years apart. The most interesting parts for me concern John Wycliffe's Bible in the 14th century, William Tyndale's brilliant translation success - though, he burned for it - and, finally, the making of the The King James Bible.  Of all of the above, other than wending your way through the Bible, either testament, I'd recommend Bobrick first to wet your whistle on it.

6) Heretics: I can't say that I have read any book specifically on heresy, unless you call all books on the Protestant reformations so. But,  it is inseparable from the history of the Church in Western society, and therefore I read about it every day. To some extent the history of the Catholic Church and Western society are co-extensive, but you might argue that much of Christian history and western civilization is about successful heresy (and further, that all of the issues of liberty we talk about today can be found there).  Probably the book which introduced me to the topic, and which I read over a quarter century ago on a flight to Europe, is Will Durant's The Age of Faith, volume four of The Story of Western Civilization.  Some of the heresies concern subjects that many modern people would find astonishing, particularly as they involve torture or murder in order to enforce orthodoxy, but were quite important to those involved - in fact, they were everything. Some were heretics, then not heretics, then heretics again. 
I have spent some time thinking about why people get so bent out of shape about others being less than conventional (for myself, I maintain that I am 99% conventional but that since I was a kid the 1% drives some people crazy -- although Bear may just say I was and am difficult). Just the other day, in the J. W. Allen's history on political thought in the 16th century I referred to above I came across his own take on this subject which matched mine completely -

"It has to be remembered, also, that there of course existed, on all sides, the constant tendency of the human mind to resent disagreement and to regard those who differ from ourselves as foolish or perverse or wicked. . . Men have to learn not to resent contradiction; and when the proposition in question is one that seems of the utmost import, the lesson is hard to learn. That which has convinced me, ought, it seems, to convince all others, or, alternatively, it ought not to have convinced me. The alternative may seem intolerable."
And, though often the "heretics" he spoke of were as intolerant as those they were trying to reform or rebel from, there trials relate to the development of tolerance and liberty but also the philosophical issue of free will -- one of those insolvable problems.  Somehow, through constant controversy, the ideas that many people had about simply wanting to be free to believe as they were inclined (even if they wanted if for themselves and no one else) caught on here and there, with many steps back, and perhaps inevitably, but also by accident, it found its way to what we have today, a system almost unique in the world - the legal guarantee that in matters of conscience or religious belief we are free.

Just because I enjoy lists, among the heretical movements and heretics themselves which have interested me most are the Arians (perhaps the first of the great movements once the Church had taken a visible form,) the Pelagians (quite a big deal in the Christian world at one time), Donatism (which lasted a few centuries in North Africa only to be finally put to rest by the Muslim invasions), Marcionism (which, interestingly, was Christian, but rejected the Old Testament and thought Jehovah a lower God than the God of the New Testament), Manichaeism (which incorporated some of Christianity and was for a while a serious rival that almost climbed the hill, as it was popular with the Roman legions) and of course, the Reformation cast of characters I've talked about above, and increasingly the early Anabaptists.  Lately, the Anabaptist offshoot, the Socinians, has caught my fancy, but I am really just starting my study of them. Though that sect is also centuries old, its heirs include modern Unitarians and Psilanthropists (like Thomas Jefferson). On a few occasions in my life evangelical Christians I have discussed religion with have insisted to me that I am really a Christian and just don't know it. It's not so, and I think they are just looking to make sense of me for themselves, but, were I one, I would most likely be a Socinian (though, again, others would argue, not illogically, that they are not Christians at all). Gnostics rarely interest me at all.
Probably a great starting place to learn about heresy is not a history or religious book at all, but Umberto Eco's two great novels, The Name of the Rose (a medieval Sherlock Holmes inspired adventure) and Foucault's Pendulum. There are, of course, many non-fiction sources, but most of what I learned some decades ago in Durant, particularly volumes 4 (The Age of Faith) and 6 (The Reformation) stands well today and I'm not sure I have learned more from any single source.

7) The Civil War.  I can't remember where, but I have covered this before. So, I will jump to what I am reading lately on the subject. First, once again, perhaps for the fourth time, I am rereading the Lincoln-Douglas debates with as much delight as the first time. The gravity of the discussions and the abilities of the two giants debating, make these 7 Illinois debates national treasures. Next, I've started as my night stand book Julie M. Fenster and Douglas Brinkley's The Case of Abraham Lincoln: A Story of Adultery, Murder and the Making of a Great President, which is a true specialty biography, focusing on a small not so well known event in Lincoln's life, a murder trial, and really, his involvement was somewhat peripheral. It is not a great book and is slow going, as I soon fall asleep once I read a few pages, but I can't blame the book, from which I've already learned a few things about 19th century Springfield. Earlier this year I read a gift from a friend who doesn't know much about history, but took a shot with Tom Carhart's Sacred Ties: From West Point Brothers to Battlefield Rivals: A True Story of the Civil War. This focused on a group of West Pointers who graduated at the War's start, and who went on to great things, albeit some for the North and some for the South. Interesting to me was the information about West Point, but most enervating were the calvary battle scenes, mostly featuring Custer. I even learned a bit about Gettysburg, a Carhart specialty, that I didn't know before. In 2011 I read Ronald C. White's A. Lincoln: A Biography and was a little disappointed. It's not that it wasn't a good biography, and there were the tidbits here or there which were either new to me or I've forgotten. It's just that White's The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through his Words, which came out a few years earlier was one of the most scholarly and insightful Lincoln books I've ever read and White's Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, probably in the same neighborhood.  I recommend either heartily to the Lincoln buff.

8) The Revolutionary War.  I've probably listed my top Revolutionary War books here before too, so I'll just mention the ones that I've read recently. That's not that hard, as it has been few. One, I've been meaning to get around to for a while was Nancy Isenberg's (no, not my aunt) Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr. Imagine my surprise a few years ago when I learned that my namesake (well, almost) had written a book on the very topic I thought I would write, if ever, one history book - that Aaron Burr was hardly the dishonorable creep he was painted as, but was mostly demonized by Jefferson and Hamilton, who knew how to do it. Professor Isenberg did a good job, but I naturally would have preferred my own.

10) The Greeks. This is the last subject I include here as I'm running out of my self imposed page limits. I can't tell you what is the best book I've read on Ancient Greece is (and if you don't see the liberty interest here, you really need to read a book on the subject), but up there I have to include one I read last year: Robin Lane Fox's Traveling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer. It describes the travels and colonization of the Mediterranean by travelers from the Greek Island of Euboea and how it figured in Greek mythology and even the writings of Homer. Probably the only books on Greece from which I learned as much are Durant's The Life of Greece (Vol. 2 of his The Story of Civilization, but the first of the series I ever read), Donald Kagan's four volumes on the Peloponnesian Wars (best of which was The Peloponnesian War) and, of course, Herodotus' Histories.
Almost done. Here's a list of other books I've read this year (or still working on), most of which worked for me and some of which fit into the above categories.

Anthony, David W., The Horse The Wheel and Language. Why am I so interested in which people were the beginnings of the Proto-Indo European language group, including, of course, English, so many thousands of years ago? I don't know, but  I read/perused this and M. L. West's Indo-European Poetry and Myth this summer. Perhaps it is because in a sense, unless you want to include all people everywhere - they started almost everything near and dear to us. These are not light books and feature not only the best of archaeology, linguistics and philology, but are a bit speculative as well. How could it not be when you are dealing with people who left nothing we can read but whose existence seems almost certain when you trace back the connections?
James Buchan's Crowded with Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind. For the last few years I've been going on and on about enlightenment values. This is where much of it came from, geniuses like David Hume and Adam Smith, just to name two. Starting with the Bonny Prince Charlie's rebellion, we go through the sordid streets of Edinburgh with a constellation of Scottish stars.

Sir James Frazer of The Golden Bough fame wrote the now virtually forgotten Psyche's Task for the purpose of demonstrating how "[f]rom false premises [man] often arrives at sound . . . folly mysteriously deviates into wisdom and good comes out of evil." Put a little more concretely, superstition has somehow, in some times and places, increased the respect for government, private property, marriage and respect for human life, that Frazer and many others consider the pillars of civilization.
Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.  Kahneman, who many think is the world's greatest living psychologist, has written a book that contains nothing a thinking person doesn't know - that we have our intuitive side which is easily fooled, and a rational side which makes better decisions and we tend to resort of rules of thumb rather than statistical approaches. But, of course, you knew all that. I can't believe that reviewers don't know that we know all that. However, the value in the book is in providing some empirical evidence to prove that we do what we all know we do. And, it's a lot of fun. Really. Do I think he is all that? I just don't. I know that would get me booed in most book clubs, but there you have it.

Thoreau's Life Without Principle. There may not be any bad Thoreau, but I haven't read everything he wrote, so I'm speculating here. Still, pretty sure. This one, really a short speech, I've read a few times, and the last time a few month's ago. Don't pass out now with this cliché, but it speaks to me. 

Okay, that's it. Love books, but everything has to end.  

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Quickie debate summary

After my earlier "what a waste of time" post, I have to say, I haven't been so happy about the state of America since Osama bin Laden was killed as I am after watching that debate. Not that I'm taking the main point back about the need for a third party, but, yeah, I'm pleased. This was a rarity, probably the best presidential debate I've ever seen. I wasn't bored for a second. This was Romney from the first few Republican debates, completely in charge without seeming overbearing.

Even on MSNBC - many of them were saying that Romney had won I watched five stations' post debate wrap up. It was a sweep, even if there was more quibbling on MSNBC and CNN.  Fox News' Frank Luntz had his usual focus group. There's no bias here. These are real people, 13 of 24 of whom came in supporting Obama. In 2008 the focus group gave it to Obama after each debate. Here, a number of them said they switched who they were going to vote for. That is very rare. Luntz said in all the years he had done this, he has never seen such a switch.

Why did Romney win? I don't know whether he believes it, but he said things that were true without going overboard. He made sure that he first said, we need regulations, before he explained we don't want them to crush business. He repeatedly struck down anything the president said that was untrue about him or the economy. And, when the president said you get a deduction for shipping jobs overseas, Romney smushed him. And, I have to say, to Obama's credit, he nodded, yeah, I goofed up with that. Watch the Luntz video if you can find it. Almost every single person in the focus group said Romney exceeded and Obama failed to meet expectations.

But, I don't like to repeat what everyone else is saying. I have 3 points. First, Obama did not do all that bad. He actually wasn't bad at all. The whole teleprompter thing is nonsense. What happened was that Romney simply knocked the ball out of the park. I was a little worried he was going to do just the opposite as he has been stumbling ever since his trip to London during the Olympics.

But, I don't like to repeat what everyone else is saying, so I want to make 4 points I haven't heard anywhere.

First, Obama really did not do all that bad. He did fairly well, whether I agree with him or not. It is that Romney did so well.

Second, don't underestimate Obama and his team. They are good at this. Overall, leaving aside tonight, they seem better at this than Romney's team.  They will come back. I expect we will see a lot of President Obama on tv soon and saying a lot of the things that Romney is saying, to try and steal his thunder.

Three - and this is most important. Romney still has to win - just for starters - Florida, Virginia and Ohio. Perhaps the first two, which are close, may swing to Romney after tonight. Perhaps not. But, I do not see how he swings Ohio.

Last, not as important, but Jim Lehrer did a good job, despite not being able to shut Romney up sometimes. His questions were good and actually helped distinguish the two.

So, short term, I'll eat a little crow. Good debate as far as they go. 

A new third party!


Can you blame me that I have a lot of politics on my mind until this election is over? Back to history the like when it is over if I seem obsessed for a while. Following is a preview of my national address at the first presidential debate tonight.
Ahem!

First, whoever it was that was responsible for my addressing a national audience preceding this first presidential debate, will perhaps forever remain a mystery. But, thank you. It probably would be more appropriate if Gary Johnson, who I suppose I support for president, was allowed to speak instead of me, so that everyone would have some perspective from someone who is actually running -- or at least so we are told - and not only from the two parties whose sole goal seems to be beating the other side so they can obtain as much power as possible, rather than addressing our problems. But I suspect that as casual, freedom loving and unconventional as Mr. Johnson can be, the fleeting fantasy that he will catch fire and actually become president might overcome him and he would engage in describing that netherworld of libertarianism that often simply frightens people who aren't familiar with it, and it would make of him merely a news cycle novelty act for the media.  
And thanks for seating the president and former governor right in front of me, because I have something to say to them.  You fellas are not going to like this a bit, but you should relax. Your faces are so tight you could bounce dimes off of them. I intend to be civil.  But I am not intending on letting the ridiculous peacock strutting cloak we drape our leaders in, particularly our presidents, stop me from saying the hard truths. Because if we don't start to not just know what is going to happen, but free people up to build something else, we can kiss our future away. Never mind the kids and grandkids stuff. I mean in a few years. And every single person who has been paying attention knows that. It's like that giant icicle that is hanging from your eaves.  It is going to come down at some point. We just don't know when.

Are there any reasons for these debates anyway except for us to see how boring, deceptive, ill spoken and small these candidates can be? Nothing personal. That is number 3 on my list of political institutions that once had a purpose and have been made irrelevant, holding no substance or value anymore-

1. Congressional speeches.
2. Political party conventions.

3. Presidential debates.

4. State of the Union addresses. "The state of the union is . . . strong!" As long as you are selling that snake oil, then we will be weak in the things that matter.
5. Political platforms.

I realize at some point they are going to pull the plug on me, so I'm going to get to my point right away.
We desperately need a third party. Not just any third party, of course. There are plenty of those. But of what value is the Conservative Party or the Green Party except to torture the major party they are closest to in ideology by taking votes? Ironically, if one of those small parties is at all successful, they then end up with president they least want.  The conservatives are tied to a vision of a "Golden Age" that never existed and the Greens to a "Utopia" that never will.  When I say we need a third party I mean one that is going to recognize that most of America is not being represented because the two parties make sure that either the candidate who is put up is from the extreme end of the party's spectrum or, the last two elections on the right, is a moderate so handcuffed by the extreme end of his party that he might as well let them control him like a marionette.

 We desperately need a genuine third party because the two party system is hopelessly institutionalized so that the two big parties can keep their power throughout the three branches, the 50 states, our territories, municipalities  our schools and increasingly over every part of our lives including what we feed our kids and how we discipline them.  Not that having a deeply divided and hostile parties opposed to each other to the point of would be bad if some sort of deadlock would keep them from mischief.  Sure, hypothetically, that sounds great and I always used to prefer deadlock to the supposedly helpful, if actually disastrous, ideas you folks would come up with. But so much damage has already been done!  It's becomes institutionalized and needs to be undone. We are living on fumes. And you all know it. You know it but do nothing to actually change it because you are trained to think that your own ambitions and party power are identical with the country's interest. And the way to continue to do it is to get those who are tied to you to vote for you because then they will continue to get stuff from, like better tax deals or waivers or less oversight, and so on, so that they can be the last men and women floating when the big swirl takes us down the drain. And, if push comes to shove we all know you will abandon your country for your own good in the "jiffiest of jiffies," as a certain character said in one of my favorite movies.
How does it feel, Mr. President, Governor, to know that most everyone who is watching this debate is already aware that you are both going to lie between your teeth, or at best, exaggerate the other guy's weaknesses and maximize your own strengths as if we were idiots and couldn't tell?   Neither of you is actually going to discuss real solutions because if you did, you would be cut to pieces by the media and the other side. Real solutions take sacrifice, and, time and time again, we see that the public doesn't like to hear it outside some doomsday situation, like during WWII or after 9-11. And, let's face it, if that was your intent, to tell the truth, you never would have gotten nominated in the first place.  Sure, the folks on your side are going to pretend you are great and he isn't, but, they know too what this is.  If they didn't know, they wouldn't have to spin so mightily when it is over later.  And people watching - many of them partisans themselves who will believe or repeat anything negative about the other guy, will rush to their favorite media outlet where they can be sure to hear that their guy won.  The independents and moderates, well, they will shake their heads and say, I don't really want to vote for him, but he is not quite as bad as the other side and we have no choice if we don't want to waste our vote.

Okay, generalizations over. Time to focus on the two of you. First, let me address the president, and tell you why you and your party have failed our country in so many ways. Then I will turn to you, governor, and explain why only your party faithful seem to want you to take the helm - and, here's the funniest part - even they don't really like you.  At the end, I'm going to say out loud the open secret . We'll call it for short, the emperor's new clothes.
Mr. President, you are a domestic disaster working hard to match it on foreign affairs. No, not because you are a secret Muslim in league with the Muslim Brotherhood to make us a caliphate, as I've heard so many say.  Not because you were born in Kenya, because that isn't true either. Not because you hate Israel or are a Communist or secretly want the country to fail.  That's all hornswoggle. Ironically, conservatives who want nothing more than to have you retired early have actually harmed their own interests by thinking that if they repeat these things enough more people would start to believe it. I have no doubt it irritated more independents who might have otherwise voted for you than it converted some to your view. But, I don't want to try to ride two horses with one ass as a certain character said in one of my favorite Westerns.  So, don't worry conservatives, I'm still working on the president.

Here's why you are a disaster. You believed in the myth of the New Deal. It is a myth that the way you get out of a depression or a recession is by dramatically increasing spending. We know this from the words of FDR's own treasury secretary after they had tried and tried for years. If there is any truth to it, then it is so only if spending is targeted to objects that actually create relatively permanent private sector jobs - but no one can know for sure what that would be. And, Mr. President, you buy into what Friedrich Hayek called the "fatal conceit," that somehow our leaders or academics are smart enough to plan an economy, something so complex that it is impossible for any of them singly or in concert to do.  I know you believe this because you scared the hell out of me early in your term when you said that we needn't worry because the "pointy heads" are on it. As if economists, gamblers, financers, bankers and all around Ivy League executives can somehow predict the future or determine how to make the economy better.  Maybe you know better, but then you know many people don't and you are aware they don't follow closely enough to figure it out. I'm even going to give you that the Republicans seem to believe these same things when they are in office. They do, but, less than you do. I also think (hope?) that they have learned a lesson.
Government is very big on making business put warnings on products, even when it is known they don't work or have any impact at all. How about you and congress have to put a warning on all spending bills explaining that every single dollar that is spent has to be paid for by additional tax on Americans at more than a dollar taxed for a dollar spent due to long term interest payments? Because that I don't think most people realize this.  Yes, it may be really cheap for the U.S. to borrow money, but when it is so deeply in debt, a zero interest payment would crush us anyway because we can't pay any of it back. I know you really know this, because you have said so in the past before you were president.
Don't you find it amazing, Mr. President, that Russia and China have made a recovery after the debacle of Communism by becoming more capitalistic. Yet, the legislation and rules coming out of your administration have been to lessen capitalism in the name of regulation.  No, neither most Republicans nor I am are against regulations that are neutral - that is, those which are general in nature, don't pick winners or losers, and don't restrict competition or so burden industries that people and business are leaving fields.  

Everything wrong with the economy is not your fault, but the last four years are for the most part. You continued the worst of President Bush's policies, like TARP and bailouts. And you doubled down with the stimulus package and the health care bill which is the most disputed, poorly drafted and badly legislated bill in history. You've also issued waiver after waiver to that same health care bill, letting some companies off the hook. Not just companies, but whole states. We already know your plan will cost a multiple of what you promised.  We must thank our media and politicians that everyone didn't know it when it was enacted because this type of thing happens time and time again.
I will add something though that the conservatives have right about you, though they cry wolf so earnestly few pay attention to their criticisms anymore outside of their own base.  I have defended you to a large extent on foreign policy while disagreeing with what is sometimes called your apology tour, your weird little bow to the Saudi King, and your Cairo speech.  I think the right has you totally wrong when it comes to Israel.  Netanyahu in particular needs tough love. But, your handling of the Benghazi uprising, your diplomacy during the whole post "Arab Spring" period and the outrage across the Middle East supposedly due to a video that the government has nothing to do with - that no one has anything to do with except one single person - that was horrible. While giving our free speech lip service, you managed to trivialize it in your U.N. speech and the pronouncements of many of your people.  You made it sound like a free society can take free speech or leave it.  And that is just wrong.  If there is any point to our exporting democracy, in our trying to lead by example, be a "story and a city on a hill," then we must at least set forward as an inalienable right, freedom to speak and believe as you will freely without government interference. Indeed, with the protection of government. Yes, we too have time, place and manner restrictions - but always that respect that there must be a way for the content to be made public.  I won't pretend there can't be other limitations the courts have carved out, but they themselves are so restricted they virtually never happen - like a true imminent national security situation. You can still make this right, but if you don't, it is as big a mistake as when Ronald Reagan moved the marines off shore in Lebanon. At least he knew it. Do you?

If you are re-elected I see more running down of our ability to dig ourselves out of this hole. If you get a chance you will add more so-called stimulus, when we all know it is not stimulate anything, but continuing to debase the currency and drown us deeper in debt. Even if you try to make it only for things like education and investment in critical industries or infrastructure, we all know what would happen by the time it got out of congress. 
I could sit here and drill holes in you for all the things you were against that you are now for - raising the debt limit, undeclared wars and so on, but I'll leave that to Governor Romney.  I know that is the kind of stuff you guys are trained to do. Attack each other's characters and beat each other up over flip flops, past mistakes, gaffes and things that just came out wrong. No, I want to beat up your philosophy and our system.

Okay, Governor Romney, stop smiling. Your turn.
I can't believe I hope you win. Even as I sit here calling for a third party, I know it is not going to happen this election, if in my lifetime. You are what I got.  In 2008, I was not very fond of you.  From what I can tell from those I talk to who want you to win, that was not unusual. But, you learned a lot about what worked and didn't and came across more likeable and moderate this time. But that is not why you won the nomination. You won because you have a party that is split between the fiscal and cultural conservatives. Already many are fretting about what next.  Real moderates who I think most Republicans and some independents would have preferred, such as Chris Christie and my personal favorite, Indiana Governor, Mitch Daniels, would not even run for the most part and they were smart to avoid it,  because the fire-eaters and religious right would have either ignored them or burned them alive. And, perhaps that is the fate of your party. To eat your own young and promote the least palatable among you.

Worse, the whole libertarian ideal that your party claims to stand upon has proven to be a pretense almost every time. When you take the reins, if you do, it is very unlikely that even if you get the Senate to go along - the House being a given -- you are going to make very few changes. Want to know how I know? Four reasons. First, experience. Very few reasonable changes have been made in the past when your party does get in power. Case in point. George W. Bush. But even if you go back to Ronald Reagan when the post Great Society expansion of spending really took off, you can see that he backed away from any real dramatic changes, such as to social security.  Second, Republicans picked you instead of Ron Paul.  If they had been for real change they would have picked him, not you.  In fact, mainstream Republicans find his ideas of actually balancing the budget and weaning people off entitlements, staying out of foreign wars, as dangerous. Third, you have seen on television what is happening in Greece, and you are all afraid of reliving the 60s, only worse, with a deadly combination of furious unions and angry unemployed who would be getting less than they want.  Fourth, and this is probably the most crushing part, we have all gotten so used to the government taking care of people who actually do need help, from handicapped children to the wounded warriors,  that most people like it, and they - we - probably will not allow an untested and unstated program of charity  or hybrid insurance to take its place even if everything else is going to hell very quickly.
But, there's another reason your party just can't seem to get on top. It's the gay thing. It's the anger about gays as if they are in a secret plot to undermine society and must be forced to admit that they have chosen a sexual inclination for the sole purpose of being different and offending you. Sure, that's why people go through the trauma of coming out. It's so much fun to have people demonize and hate you people can't wait to sign up.  Honestly, and this is just my personal opinion, I don't think you really feel that way anymore than Obama did or I think McCain did. You just have no choice with your party but to give it credence. If Dick Cheney and Theodore Olsen can see the light here, why can't you? 
 

Here's the little secret I promised to tell the two of you. You "Mr. We are going to save you all from the socialist melodrama" and you "Mr. The oceans are going to recede rhetoric President." Nobody believes either of you are going to change anything, no matter what you say. Most of us kind of believe that whoever is elected, things will likely get worse. So, people will pick their poison, knowing it just won't matter much. It won't matter because as long as the entire power of our governments (states too) are in the hands of party-men with so much contempt for each other that there is only one thing they have more contempt for - and, that, is anything that might wrench the power away from the two party system. 
And short of civil war or revolution, there is only one thing that we the people can do to change things - vote in a third party.

But, we know from experience that the two of you - and I am speaking to the parties now - will make sure that we'll that anyone with any connections to either of you will be ostracized and punished if they try this. You will warn the base that you will lose if they vote for this horrible person. You will attack the third party candidate on a personal level and complain that he or she ise the worst of all politicians. You will do everything in your power to make sure they will be cut off from power.
So, what is someone who wants to be a real third party to do? Well, the candidate probably has to be, initially, a person of completely independent means who can afford to throw away a billion dollars. Or, it has to be someone who has a national soapbox so that he can raise that kind of money. Don't worry, there will be consultants necessary to navigate the labyrinth of campaign fund raising laws, but I would stop there with the so-called experts except for specific technical problems you might have.  Policy experts will just screw you up and if you need them, you probably don't have what it takes to be a successful candidate.  I'd rather you just say, I don't know with respect to anything you just don't know.

You will need a name for your party, of course, not that matters much. I don't think anything with "independent" or "moderate" in it will work because people will assume that it means you don't stand for anything. I would stay away from anything that will help paint you as conservative (which the liberals will call you) or liberal (which the conservatives will call you).  Forget "National" anything(reminds some people of Nazis) too as well as "Whig" (just too old sounding). It needs at least a little panache and also some stateliness, has to be short enough, but also somehow suggest we are the party for most Americans.  I'm not going to be any good at this, but I'll suggest The Broadbase, without the word "party," but feel free to do better.
But, more important than the name, you need positions that can be easily identified. And you do have values, principles and positions.  But, it does not have to be for everything. Did Ross Perot? I am convinced he could have won as an independent in 1992 if he had stuck with it (I think that McCain could have in 2000 too). Perot even had a party - The Reform Party. That is the closest we will come to having a model to base ourselves on, but I am referring to that party before Pat Buchanan took it over and ruined it a few years later.

I know that people do not read platforms (except for your opponents to see if there is anything they can attack you on). We will have a platform though, and we hope it will actually means something, but it won't look much like the Democrat's or Republican's platforms.  We need just a few points that we are going to concentrate on.  Here they are:
The Deficit: We are going to reduce the deficit, primarily by spending cuts.  The people responsible for this will be department heads. They get their jobs by pledging that if they manage to reduce their department's budget by 10 percent per year for each of the next 3 years. This is refigured if we have a new war or some national crisis.  But, the department heads cannot do it by reducing any salaries or benefits other than proportionality within their department -- in other words, can't take it from the less highly paid employees.  At the end of the second year we will see how we are doing, but the goal is a balanced budget within a few years.  You can call this a "dumb cut,"  if you like.  Our candidate will own it. Dumb and equal is better than smart in this case, because no one is happy with cutting this or that.

Taxes: On the other hand, the goal is to reduce every tax where we can and not to double tax. Taxes should not be used to eradicate behavior we don't like. They are neither carrots or sticks however much they have been in the past. Direct taxes will be proportional and we do not restrict them to what direct taxes have been in the past.  The income tax will be completely redone.  A progressive tax is okay as long as marginal, proportionate after a certain minimum and capped at a reasonable point. There is no more estate tax. There is no more capital gains treatment as taxes will be low enough. There is no corporate tax. However, loopholes to hide money in corporations will be ended and all benefits are now taxable except, for the foreseeable future, healthcare benefits.  And, there will be no pledges never to raise taxes. That's crazy talk.
Cutting:  We are eradicating the Department of Education, the Department of Energy except for nuclear energy and any department or agency to the extent there is duplicative work.

Unions: All public unions will be decertified. There is no reason to have one.  Workers are free to join an association, but there is no coercive negotiations  and no right to strike against the public employer.  All retirement benefits have to be redone so that it will survive.  Private unions may carry on as before, except that coercive negotiations are ended and states are all encouraged to become right to work states.  
Congress:  Congress needs to be reformed more than any other area. The committee system especially needs to be reformed so that it can't keep legislation from being voted on.  Each member gets to suggest 3 amendments and they are voted on without debates.  Debates are worthless in congress. Read what everyone has to say online in a closed forum.  Chairs should be rotated and what is left of the seniority  system completely abolished.  No more shaking the tree (meaning no more amendments) by the majority leader.  No more one member holding up appointments.  Members submit their legislation and every member comments and then votes on it electronically. Any member can belong to whatever party they want, but parties no longer control congress. Speeches can be made and every member should get at least one chance of EQUAL time, not time controlled by party leaders, but all other communication can be done by the internet.  This can all be done very quickly and there really is no point to the speeches  either. There is also no purpose to holding up legislation for the schedules of these vote and contribution seeking legislatures.  It should be a 5 day week job like all other federal jobs, 46 weeks a year.  The filibuster must be abolished with respect to presidential appointments. There should be an up and down vote within 60 days of every nominee.  Electronic voting becomes the default and all votes are automatically recorded. No more voice voting, which is a sham. 

Campaign fundraising rules should be abolished except full sunshine rules.  These rules don't work anyway and are so easy to get around. Let's be done with the nonsense that makes people law breakers because they want to support someone.  I'm not sure there should be any campaign finance rules other than reporting (and I'm not 100% sure I like those either) and avoiding bribery.
Debates:  Questions should either be asked by lawyers from the other side or if they want to let the candidates go at each other, they should have their mikes cut off after 2 minutes each. Go back and forth as much as they want, with an assistant to help them put a document or a video clip on a screen.  What does it prove to have them do this alone?

Commerce Clause: There is not much can be done with the constitutional aspect now because the meaning of it has been stretched beyond recognition.  However, we also recognize that over time, the fact of what is intrastate or interstate has greatly changed and even more so with the advent of the internet.  The clause was put in the constitution to prevent one state from taking advantage of others, and that, and national issues that cannot be solved without federal intervention, which should be few, should be the general limits. Anything else that is simply the federal government deciding that wants to regulate local matters should be vetoed as if Gary Johnson really was president.  So much mischief is caused by this it just unbelievable. However, if there is any idea here that makes me feel I will have to eat my words, it is this one. What is covered under my definition? Even I don't know. But, that's one of the things I like about my party. We say I don't know a lot.
No more money for industries: I understand money for education. And I understand money for pure research that will be hard to define.  And I understand government contractors. But, enough with the Solyndras and the like. All money to businesses from the federal government means is that taxpayers are being  forced to invest. With that, of course, goes the whole crazy notion of too big to fail.

The social issues:  We support the end of DOMA. The federal government should have nothing to do with marriage and states constitutionally must respect each other's decrees and judgments. We will not repeal the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell if anyone actually thinks that makes sense anymore (what happened to all the problems that were supposed to happen when the repeal went into effect?) We will end the White House's office of faith based initiatives. The president lives at the White House and if he wants a Christmas Tree or Jewish Star or any other symbol, he can do it. But, generally speaking, I am against religious symbols on public buildings, papers, etc. More, while there is a long tradition of religious accomodation in this country, it cannot be that otherwise neutral laws do not have to be followed by someone who says he has a religious reason. Anyone can be as religious as they like, but they cannot have their own laws. I recognize that it is much easier to say than to implement, but let us try the best we can.

We can't promise much of this. There is such a thing as the congress and you are not electing a fuehrer.  But, this is what we will be asking congress to work with us on. None of this will happen unless great headway is made with getting the new party's members in congress and we only get that if people really want these changes.

Someone should float this stuff out there. I started the ball rolling, now someone pick it up.
Uh, the debate preliminaries are starting, so I want to publish. Hope there aren't too many mistakes.

 
 

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .